In past posts, I’ve complained a little about people giving me directions and advice, but this one really tickled my fancy.
I was on my way from Murdo to Dixon, and I was running low on water. I saw a sign that said “New Witten 5 mi,” I’d stop there for water. Five miles later, I passed a sign that said, “Welcome to New Witten."
I thought, “Oh, here comes New Witten.” I biked for a few more minutes, but I didn’t see a town. So I biked back to the sign. A gravel road ran off the road behind the sign. "No way," I thought.
I slowly pedaled down the gravel road for half a mile. The air was filled with that wispy, cottony stuff that comes from weeds. I don’t know where it comes from, actually, but I imagine it’s from cattails or something. The wispy cattail guts were everywhere. They gave everything a foggy look. And, then, I saw the town. The gravel turned into dirt. I saw some houses and a park. Main Street consisted of four, brick buildings, side by side, with their titles engraved in the stone above the doors: Post Office, General Store, Masonic Temple, and Meeting Hall.
What was once the Masonic Temple was now a bar. The other buildings seemed to serve the same purpose as when New Witten was actually new back during the peak of the Roman Empire. I parked my bike outside of the General Store. The screen door was blowing open and shut with the wind. I opened the door.
“Well, hello. What can I do you for, son?” the old man behind the desk asked. He was wearing black suspenders and a white shirt with red pin stripes. He had gray hair.. His name was Ike, a round, jolly, old guy.
“Hi, there. Do you have a public bathroom?”
“Well, you won’t be wantin’ to use our bathroom. Toilet ain't workin' right. Somebody’s clogged ‘er up. You’ll have to go across the street, right inside the park there.”
“Thanks.” I walked towards the door.
“Hold on, ,” he said. “You’ll probably be needin’ this, if you’ve got any serious business to do.” He limped into the backroom of the store and brought out a roll of toilet paper. “I’d wager them neighborhood kids dropped what’s in there in the toilet.”
I thanked him and stepped outside, walking towards a building in the park.
“Not that way, sonny. You want the building there on your left. The wooden one, not the concrete one,” he shouted from just behind the screen door. He opened the door and pointed to the wood building.
I thanked him again and walked into the outhouse.
When I came back, I brought my water bottles with me to fill. I handed him the toilet paper and asked, “Do you know about how far it is to Dixon?”
“Well, Dixon? There's no such place.”
“Okay. About how far to Winner, then?”
That incited him to retrieve his map of South Dakota. He spread it on the counter. Once he realized that I would be travelling to Michigan, he apologized for not having a bigger map and, then, over the next forty-five minutes, explained every hill, town, river, and junction that I would encounter in South Dakota. Ike told me exact elevations. He told me about every restaurant in each of the towns--food prices, the tastiest dishes, the best times of day to visit. He told me about a bakery that had good bran muffins, just in case I get stopped up. He told me names of gas station attendants along the way.
When he was finished, I thanked him and headed out the door. He said, “Wait a minute, son. You’ll be needin’ to fill those bottles.”
I said, “Oh, yeah. Yes, please.”
He took a few bottles of water from the stock shelf and filled my bottles with them and said, “This’ll do ya, and, while, yer ridin’ watch out for ticks. This area is known fer ‘em. There buggers to dig out. Don’t get him in yer privates. That’d be a helluva an itch.”
I thanked him and headed for the door.
“Oh,” he said, “take this. It might come in handy on the road, and you can look at it and remember stoppin’ in here.” He handed me a mini calendar that said, “New Witten General Store. Have Great Year, Ike and Aurdrey Erickson.” I thanked him, again, and left.